There’s no greater connection than the one between a dog and a child. And there are few times when the strength of this bond is as apparent as when the little ones return to school after the summer break. As the kids spend the day in the classroom, you may find your dog spending their day awaiting the children’s return. If you’ve caught your dog lounging by the door, checking the kids’ rooms from time to time, or moping about, your dog likely has a case of the back-to-school blues.
What Causes Your Dog’s Back-to-School Blues?
As a dog parent, you probably know that your canine companion’s mind and mood are more complicated than other people may realize. In fact, dogs experience anxiety, depression, and sadness just like people. A change in routine, like your kids’ return to school, is often the culprit when it comes to a sudden change in your dog’s mood and behavior.
Not only does a change in routine result in a higher likelihood of doggie depression, but your dog truly misses the kids while they’re away.
Signs Your Dog Is Feeling Down
Most pet owners feel connected and in sync with their dog’s emotions. This isn’t an illusion. Our dogs can interpret emotional states through our facial expressions, tone of voice, and changes in behavior. This connection is true of your ability to read your dog’s feelings, too. So, if you’re sensing that your dog is feeling down, they likely are. However, if you want to verify, these are the most common symptoms that your dog may be sad or depressed:
- Sleeping more than usual
- Being extra clinging
- Whimpering or sighing
- A lack of appetite
- Becoming withdrawn or hiding
- Being reluctant to engage while the kids are away
How to Help Your Dog Overcome Back-to-School Sadness
Most dogs adjust to their kids’ return to school after a few weeks. However, it’s important to watch for signs that they may be developing separation anxiety and take a proactive approach to prevent this issue from worsening. To help your dog stay busy while the kids are back in school and reduce the risk of long-term anxiety or depression, here are some simple ways to cheer up your dog and ease the transition:
1. Keep the Rest of Your Dog’s Routine Consistent
Our dogs thrive on stability and routine. Adjusting to a major change in this routine takes time. To help your dog adjust more smoothly to the absence of the little ones, keep the rest of their schedule consistent. This includes keeping mealtimes, bathroom breaks, and rest time the same. If you aren’t available to take your dog out during the day, hiring a dog walker is an excellent way to provide stability and a fun midday break.
2. Reinvigorate Training & Positive Reinforcement
Many of the most popular working dog breeds are also prone to depression. If your best friend is a retriever, hunting breed, shepherd, rescue dog, another working breed, or just a dog that loves to please, then training can provide a welcome boost in mood and motivation.
If it’s been a while since you’ve had formal training sessions with your dog, start slow. Go back over the tricks and behaviors they already know in sessions of no more than 15 minutes. This will reinforce a strong foundation to build on, and the positive reinforcement of successfully performing these behaviors is a great confidence booster for your dog. Remember to use healthy, high-value dog snacks like Vroomies, broken into training-treat portions to motivate your dog without surplus calories.
After re-engaging your dog’s desire to learn and please, you can begin working on more advanced tricks or combinations.
Pro Tip: If your dog or puppy has yet to go through a fundamental training course, this is a great time to sign them up. This will help your dog feel accomplished with their own back-to-school experience.
3. Provide Extra Exercise & Engagement
Raising your dog’s heart rate and getting them up and moving provides them with a natural boost of positive endorphins. Starting the day with an extra walk, jog, or game of fetch will also help them rest more soundly during the day while the kids are away.
Scent games are another great way to engage your dog’s mind and body (and possibly distract them as the kids leave the house). To accomplish this fun activity, keep your dog out of the space where you’re planning to hide their irresistibly scented treats. Next, break apart a few dog snacks and hide them throughout the room. Then, watch your dog sniff out the fun.
4. Schedule Doggie Quality Time with the Kids
When school is back in session, most kids simply have less time to play with their dogs. However, some attention from the little ones can go a long way in helping your dog feel loved. Instruct your kids to not make a big deal about leaving or returning to the house–this can increase a dog’s separation anxiety.
Instead, set aside one-on-one time for your dog and kids between after-school activities, homework, and chores.
This can include:
- Walks or hikes
- Making homemade dog snacks
- Child-led training sessions
- Doggie dates to stores or restaurants
- Downtime together
5. Help Your Dog Make New Friends
Trips to the dog park or doggie daycare can provide your dog with enrichment and exercise with less investment of your time. Plus, meeting, greeting, and playing with other dogs is a great way to give your dog an outlet for their social needs.
For dogs that are a bit shy, try going to the dog park mid-morning. It will be less busy and less intimidating for shyer dogs. If you’re unsure of your dog or puppy’s level of manners, doggie daycare is your best bet. With the supervision of a trained staff, dog daycares offer a safe way for your dog to play!
Extra Credit for Your Canine Companion
When it comes to keeping your dog healthy, happy, and having fun, providing them with a variety of activities is key. As the kids return to school, remember to maintain your dog’s daily routine while adding in enrichment, socialization, and some special time with the kids. This will boost your dog’s mood while providing them with some health-filled side effects!
Looking for a way to provide your dog with even more purpose and enjoyment? Teaching them to help with your flock is a great way to do just this. Learn how to foster a positive flock-dog relationship.